Safe wading. Sounds simple enough, but is it? I have watched the fly fishing community experience a huge boom in the last few years. More and more anglers are making the switch to fly fishing. I was fortunate enough to start trout fishing at the age of 3. My dad grew up fishing the small streams of New York and wanted to share his knowledge with me. We started fishing small pay ponds to peak my interest in trout fishing. When I was old enough to start wading the cold water streams he always stressed the importance of safe wading. Over the years I have combined what he taught me and my own self-correcting mistakes to create a habit of safe wading.
The Right Boots
Depending on your budget there is a still a few things you can do with your boots to make sure you have a safe day on the water. Even with the threat of transferring invasive species from one river to another, you cannot deny that felt soled boots will be some of the best gripping shoes you may have. Some of the rivers I wade are full of snot and slippery algae. Growing up before I knew the risks of felt soled shoes when it comes to river ecosystems I wouldn’t wear anything else. If you have a single river you fish then there is no issue with the felt soled boots.
Rubber some boots work well and typically will not transport unwanted organisms from one watershed to another, but can be an issue when it comes to slippery rocks. Some manufacturers use a softer rubber that grips the rocks better.
For some people, the weight of the boots can help as well. My wife becomes buoyant much more quickly than I do. She wears a heavier wading boot and wouldn’t trade them for lighter boots.
Regardless if you choose felt or rubber soled boots, you may find that you need some extra grip. Consider metal studs. If your boots are not compatible with screw on studs, you can purchase traction cleats that slip on over your soles.
This is one important piece of equipment that you do not want to forget. I have seen people on the water without a wading belt because they found it uncomfortable or did not like having it on their waders. A wading belt is provided with most sets of waders because it could save your life. The purpose of the belt is to keep water from completely filling your waders and dragging you down the river. Also helps if you fall into some cold water by keeping the water from reaching past your belt (until you stand up). If you do not like the wading belt provided with your waders there are plenty of aftermarket companies that provide belts. These belts come in different colors and are made from different materials. Check them out!
This should be self explanatory, but anglers still forget why they are on the river. For me it is to slow down, get in touch with the river I am fishing and work it over. I read the runs and will fish some unique places that most fishermen will wade past/through. So the key here is to slow down and just fish. The benefits to slowing down are better awareness of your surroundings, causes to get a better footing when wading, and not spooking everything in that given area.
Use a Wading Staff
You do not need to go out and buy an expensive wading staff to accomplish this. Many of my friends use old canes, ski poles or hiking sticks. I have even used a long handled net on occasions. If there is a strong current I will use a wading staff to better anchor myself when moving my feet. If the water is high and stained, I will use the wading staff to see if there are any runs or deep pockets in front of me before I step into them.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
Some streams or rivers require PFDs. If you are caught without one can ruin a day on the water. I have seen many people called out of the river for PFD checks that have led to citations. There are fly vests with PFDs built in as well as the more traditional life jackets. I do not like feeling restricted wearing a large PFD so I use a pull-cord, inflatable PFD that fills by a CO2 cartridge when the cord is pulled. If I am on a large tailwater fishing, or fishing on high water, I will wear my PFD
Every river is different. Whether it is new and exciting or a river controlled by a dam. It is important to know what you’re getting into. Many rivers that are controlled by dams in my area have some sort of gauge on them. I can read water levels, how much water is being released, water clarity and so on. River gauges are not only restricted to tailwaters. My home waters are found on headwater rivers where the gauges can tell me the flow and water level. I tend to check the gauges more often than I care to mention when I’m daydreaming about fishing. This is data all fishermen should learn. Another good source of information will come from different fly shops or outfitters. They will have first hand knowledge of any water they operate on so give them a call!
I hope you found this information helpful!
Joe with Monthly Fly